Who among us is so healthy and resistant against diseases that he is not bewildered and dismayed by the rain of messages that thundered from the World Health Organization (WHO) over the weekend?
First, Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, declared on Sunday that lockdowns were not enough to defeat the coronavirus. It does not matter that entire populations across the globe are suffering today all kinds of restrictions and deprivations in their countries’ desperate bid to stop the pandemic. It marches on.
Next, WHO’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned on Monday that the coronavirus pandemic was clearly “accelerating.” The number of deaths has topped 16,500, with more than 378,000 declared infections in 174 countries and territories.
It was as if the two WHO officials were in a race to show the world who is the more scary Cassandra. Or the more worthy of command.
Lockdowns not enough
“Countries can’t simply lock down their societies to defeat coronavirus,” Ryan was quoted as saying in a Reuters report on Sunday. He stressed that public health measures were needed to avoid a resurgence of the virus later on.
“What we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus and isolate them…find their contacts and isolate them,” Ryan said in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“The danger right now with the lockdowns… If we don’t put in place the strong public health measures now, when those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up.”
The rest of the Reuters report:
“Much of Europe and the United States have followed China and other Asian countries and introduced drastic restrictions to fight the new coronavirus, with most workers told to work from home and schools, [and] bars, pubs and restaurants being closed.
“Ryan said the examples of China, Singapore and South Korea, which coupled restrictions with rigorous measures to test every possible suspect, provided a model for Europe, which the WHO has said has replaced Asia as the epicenter of the pandemic.
“‘Once we’ve suppressed the transmission, we have to go after the virus. We have to take the fight to the virus,’ Ryan said.
“Italy is now the worst hit country in the world by the virus, and [United Kingdom] Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that Britain’s health system could be overwhelmed unless people avoid social interactions. British Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said production of tests would double next week and ramp up thereafter.
“Ryan also said several vaccines were in development, but only one had begun trials in the United States. Asked how long it would take before there was a vaccine available in Britain, he said that people needed to be realistic.
“‘We have to make sure that it’s absolutely safe… we are talking at least a year,’ he said.”
Pandemic is accelerating
As if to confirm or surpass Ryan’s evaluation, Tedros followed up on Monday with a warning that the coronavirus pandemic was clearly “accelerating.”
The Manila Times was clearly alarmed into running the Agence France-Presse report on this declaration as its headline story yesterday.
The tidings from Tedros went as follows: “The number of coronavirus deaths has topped 16,500 with more than 378,000 declared infections in 174 countries and territories.
“Tedros said it took 67 days from the beginning of the outbreak in China in December for the virus to infect the first 100,000 people worldwide.
“In comparison, it required only 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000, he added.
“Tedros acknowledged that many countries were struggling to take more aggressive measures because they lack resources, but said, ‘[W]e are not helpless bystanders.’
“‘We can change the trajectory of this pandemic,’ he said.
“There was a glimmer of hope on Monday in figures from Italy, the European ground zero of the coronavirus disease 2019.
“New infections in the continent’s hardest-hit country dipped to just shy of 5,000, down from over 6,500 the day before.
“Its daily death toll also fell slightly, although cumulatively the country has recorded more than 6,000 fatalities, far-exceeding even that of China, where the disease emerged late last year.
“In the United States, hard-hit New York City was under lockdown, with its usual logjam commute now just a trickle of pharmacists, grocery store workers and medical staff.
“But Trump — who faces reelection in November and is keen to avoid extended economic damage in the US — told reporters he would soon be ‘opening up our country to business because our country was meant to be open.’
“Britain was under lockdown on Tuesday, its population joining around 1.7 billion people around the globe ordered to stay indoors to curb the accelerating spread of the coronavirus.
“Across Europe, Asia, North America, the Middle East and parts of Africa, governments have told their citizens to remain at home as they grapple with a disease that has claimed thousands of lives — and shows no signs of slowing.
“The global shutdown continued to throw up horrifying tales; soldiers in Spain tasked with fighting the outbreak reported finding abandoned elderly people — some dead — at retirement homes.
“The financial impact of economies grinding to a halt continued to unnerve policymakers, who opened the spigots and flooded the markets with yet more cash — their latest effort to keep the wheels turning.
“The US Federal Reserve unveiled an unprecedented bond-buying program, in a move not seen since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
“The Fed, which has already slashed interest rates to record lows, said it will buy unlimited amounts of Treasury debt and take steps to lend directly to small and medium-sized firms hammered by a countrywide lockdown now.”
NYT: Virus can be defeated
What is WHO’s real message to a world that is already reeling and writhing from all the restrictions and deprivations that governments have imposed on their populations in a desperate bid to contain the virus? That all these measures are an exercise in futility? That we are like a frog whose anatomy is dissected and scrutinized in laboratory class?
Yet, at the same time that WHO was discombobulating the world with its tidings, the New York Times (NYT) on March 24 published a report on the fight against the pandemic that was infinitely more positive and hopeful.
In an article titled “Harsh steps are needed to stop the coronavirus, experts say,” NYT reported: “Terrifying though the coronavirus may be, it can be turned back. The contagion can be brought to heel.”
I will discuss the NYT story in my next column.